Tense Lapse?

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Thread: Tense Lapse?

  1. #1

    Tense Lapse?

    I've stumbled upon this sentence in a Dickens novel:

    -She had a little money, but it was very little, and when that was gone, they must begin to beg.

    Shouldn't it be "they would have to beg/to start begging/etc."?

    I know that writers used to switch tenses, but only when addressing some philosophical thought outside the spectrum of the immediate story. But the example above is "in character". Why do you think he chose to write it in this way? Or am I missing something? Was "must" usable in past tense back then?

  2. #2
    Some interesting links here.
    I sense it was possibly acceptable at the time but has drifted into becoming archaic.
    There's also a possibility that he was trying to ensure that the meter flowed better as if it were poetry. If 'must' as a past tense was semi-acceptable back then, it would make some sense to use it in assisting the prose to flow. Without seeing the style of the surrounding paragraphs, it's not so easy to be certain.

    I doubt you'll ever know for certain.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Istine View Post
    I doubt you'll ever know for certain.
    That's a very sad sentence, but I guess you're right.

  4. #4
    Were it spoken by a character it could be vernacular, but this is generall exposition, so it's probably a plain old typo. With the possible exception of Hard Times, which Dickens may have written as a novel at white-hot speed in a few weeks, 'cause he needed some large cash quickly, all of his novels started out as serialized weekly or monthly chapters in magazines, often Pickwick Papers. Books among the general pop. in Victorian London were almost unheard of, they were so expensive. But orfinary people could afford a few pence for a magazine, and share it around. This social reality greatly increased Dickens' readership, popularity, and income. . . AND constituted a minor literary revolution among the working pooe. Deadlines were, of course, absolute for writers, and Dixkens would occasionally be seen composing extemporaneously and dictating the final page or two of a chapter directly to the typesetter! Then ink would be rolled on the galleys and the mag would be printed right away. I've seen a few first-edition pages of those mags and typos were rampant.

    Book Cook -- is the sentence from The Old Curiousity Shop? ​Something to do with Little Nell? A relative fretting about her well-being, something like that? Just a little bell fainting ringing in Compartment 17A, y'know?


    "I believe in nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the Truth of the imagination". Keats, ​Letters

    "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls -- it tolls for thee. " John Donne, Meditation XVII

  5. #5
    It's a forward projection. At the time of writing the little money was still in her possession.

    Yes, it's archaic phrasing, but that was how I read it.


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